Watchers: The Virtual Series
Season 2, Episode 15
Story by Gelfling21
Written by Gelfling21 (additional writing by Chris Cook)
Produced and Directed by Gelfling21 and CN Winters
Edited by Angie Wilson
Sound by CSR
Art Direction by Chris Cook
Artists – Chris Cook, Zahir al-Daoud, Rob, Sarah, Humaira
Guest Starring: Robin Sachs, Jay Mohr, Chazz Palminteri, Ben Gazzara, Kenneth Branagh, Marzena Godecki, Lindsay Felton and Elijah Wood.
Scene 01: We start in the recent past, three weeks before the time of the episode. We're in London and we're in the presence of Robin Sachs as Ethan Rayne, so we're already off to a good start. With him is Kenneth Branagh as Sir Cyril Rodham. We're in the latter's office.
Ethan, we find, is still in the employ of The Organization, a shadowy group mostly involved in property development and not above using selfish and mystic means to get what they want. A key member of the group is Chazz Palminteri as gangster-lite, Volano. We last heard from this group during Ro's nabbing by the street Slayer gang run by Julia back in S2, E10 - Real World.
Now, Ethan is demanding time off from The Organization to run a personal errand, which one would assume will involve the Council in some capacity. Sir Rodham is not amenable to this 'time off', and is being a jerk about it, until he receives word from someone above him that the request is approved.
Ethan still has his dog named Rupert. He shares with it, smirking of course, that the whole thing was mostly for show to allow The Organization to pretend that they had any real say on where he goes or why.
Scene 02: Back in the present day, we listen in on a nightly news report in Cleveland. There has been a spate of mysterious deaths caused by an alleged virus that strikes seemingly healthy, vibrant people down so quickly that there are no symptoms of anything wrong.
The report includes tape footage of a young man who watched his older brother drop dead suddenly from this 'virus', but he claims that something else was responsible. He describes "air, if you could see it", which passed through his brother just prior to his death.
The news goes on to say that the boy is under sedation.
Scene 03: Giles and Becca are watching this report, and what with the eyewitness account, he calls for a meeting. He's disturbed by Rowena's report that Willow isn't available and that Ro has no way of calling her. Willow had apparently earlier promised to keep them informed of her whereabouts in case of emergency.
Scene 04: From London, Sir Rodham calls Jimmy Volano. He complains that Ethan has become a loose cannon that is no longer advantageous. Jimmy's instructions are to see to it that Rayne doesn't leave Cleveland alive. He calls for an assassin, who would seem to have some experience in dealing with wizards.
Commentary: I'll admit here that Volano as a character bores me a bit. I think the gangster/urban crime motifs don't fit altogether comfortably with the supernatural nature of WATCHERS. On the other hand though, the writers do a generally good job of incorporating him. I did find myself immediately wishing he wasn't the one included in this tale. I also find The Organization to be unfocused as villains and would have liked this tale and the threat to Ethan to come from a more interesting source, like the Old Council, instead.
Scene 05: The following morning, Giles and the gang are meeting to discuss this latest rash of mysterious deaths. Giles is very unusually snappish, especially toward Willow and Xander. There is some explicating that Willow has been disappearing for long portions of time lately (I assumed for the past three weeks or so, in keeping with Ethan's plot developments) without explanation as to where she has gone or any way to contact her. Giles takes exception to this, and there is some mention that Willow's unexplained absences aren't the only issue, but that she appears to have been lax in her focus on her job as a Watcher and Council head, as well.
Jeff has been present at this meeting, which I take to be because Willow wasn't there. He snarks about Bonnie's continued presence and her general uselessness lately. Giles mostly ignores his digs because Bonnie is still the closest thing they have to a source about the Presidium, which continues to be a concern.
Commentary: There is a bit of a continuity issue here, but it's minor. In scene 03, Giles and Becca very strongly imply that there is going to be an immediate emergency meeting about the news report and possible mystical deaths. We open this scene in the morning, though. Now, unless they've stayed up all night rehashing the scant information they have over and over, it appears that this scene should have been set yesterday or around midnight. I also would have liked there to be a more specific reference to how long Willow has been pulling her disappearing acts or 'losing focus', because we've seen no hint of this in previous episodes. It took some considering before I realized that this was probably meant to refer to Ethan and not an ongoing plot of Willow's that we're just now hearing about.
But again, these are very minor things that just crossed by mind during the read and not major story problems.
Scene 06: Moments after the meeting, Giles and Becca have a contentious discussion of her being shipped off to New York until the latest crisis is dealt with. She refuses, despite Giles' insistence. He's concerned for their baby and her, but she (rightly in my opinion) points out she can't run away every time something weird crops up, or she'll never be able to stop.
Being hard-headed, she wins.
Scene 07: The following morning, Dawn goes to the kitchen to discover it eerily quiet and empty. She wanders out to reception, but it is also unmanned. The answer to what has happened to everyone is quickly answered when she spots an ambulance out front. One of the teachers at the attached Council school had been found dead only shortly before with no obvious signs of trauma.
Dawn is upset by this, as she had really liked Ms. Zanninger (who I believe is one of those people who everyone new retroactively - I don't think we've ever heard of her before... like all those friends who showed up to say hi to Buffy or Willow and then ended up never mentioned, seen or heard from again on BTVS).
Commentary: This scene is a bit weird, because we skip the entire previous day to jump to this scene. Logically, I was expecting a scene at the hospital with the survivor to appear here, to show us that the Council was investigating but not getting much more information about what they may be facing. It's also awkward to have Dawn be so affected by a character's death here, without including a walk on part at least where we see her exchanging friendly banter with the soon-to-be victim.
Scene 08: Later that morning in the conference room, Giles is again verbally attacking Willow's absences to Faith and Robin. Willow returns from her latest sojourn, and to Giles' consternation tells them she was visiting with the local detectives, gathering information. She also reports that she had already spoken to Althenea and has her coven working on determining what is going on with their location.
Giles is very caustic in informing her that if she'd arrived for meetings on time, she would have known he'd taken care of that already. In addition, he's still angry at not knowing where she's been vanishing to and what she's been up to.
Commentary: I believe this is going to be due to Giles being under some mystic influence, but I'm also wondering if this is some subconscious fear manifesting itself. Everyone has assumed that the reason for Willow's disappearance is because she's trying to deal with the aftermath of her Persephone's Knot spell that removed all of her magic. While her abilities were returned to her, they've been considerably weakened (a plot point that Watchers really needed to mention more often than they did - with magic being effective or not as plot requires, it's never clear if something Willow is trying doesn't work because the plot needs it not to, or whether it is meant to be due to previous events). One wonders here if Giles isn't afraid of just how far she may go to get her magic back to where she wants it.
Future me - Actually, this isn't mystical at all, Giles is just being prickly about Willow's unexplained absences. -
This tense scene (which Will is far more patient about than I would have been, considering Giles' outbursts at her) is interrupted by a scream from down the hall. When everyone arrives in a classroom, they find a young Slayer, Shannon (we'll be learning much more about her later) traumatized. Also present is the body of a Watcher In Training. Shannon tearfully reports that she saw the mysterious air-shimmer-er that had been reported by the interviewee on the news. The young Watcher threw himself in front of her and took what was meant to be her death.
With it now obvious that the Council is has been invaded, Robin and Giles institute a lockdown of the facility.
Scene 09: In the coven room, much later, Dawn complains about a lack of progress in determining what they're facing or how to guard against it.
Commentary: Where is Andrew in this scene? He's a member of Willow's coven.
Scene 10: In Giles' suite, he's on the phone with Althenea asking about locating someone... who remains unspecified, but possibly/probably Ethan... when he figures out something else and quickly disconnects. Rupert quickly readies to go out to investigate something, but Becca catches him sneaking off. He explains that he may have an idea of what has happened to their teacher and Watcher trainee.
Commentary: This scene is deliberately vaguely written, but there is a hint of that Althenea has either been in contact with Ethan lately for some reason, or that Willow confided in Althenea about being in contact with Ethan. It makes sense that if she'd been meeting with Ethan, particularly in regard to her magic difficulty, that Willow would hide this from Giles. It's a bit annoying how the story is being coy with the audience however, since they already made it clear that Rayne is making a return this episode. I wish they would have simply stated it to the audience, but kept it from Giles, or that Ethan wasn't in the teaser at all, making his arrival and contact with Willow a complete shock. As it is, it's just a bit irritating that it is being presented as a surprise on the audience that has already been spoiled.
Scene 11: In the outskirts of Cleveland, Giles, Faith and Robin are in an old sedan outside of a motel. Robin and Faith complain about sitting there when there isn't anything happening, but Rupert insists he has 'inside information', which places the motel they're staking out as of interest to the Council.
It is a while later, when Rupert sees a wavering in the air. Faith also detects something, though by Slayer instinct, rather than sight. In the parking lot, the murderous shimmer is floating randomly in the lot. Faith tries to get out of the car to confront the thing, while Robin tries to restrain her. Since it has no physical mass, Robin has the right idea.
Commentary: Although, considering the what little they know, I don't understand the point of bringing Robin or Faith, rather than someone who could defend them with magic. This would seem to be a good place in the story to utilize boy-wizard, Jeff.
The shimmer of death begins to move toward the car with out Council members as Faith argues with Robin about backing off and letting her do her job. Unfortunately for a nearby gas station clerk, he noted Giles' car sitting there for the past several hours. Now seeing Robin apparently trying to restrain her, with Giles seemingly helping him, he believes Faith to be a damsel in distress. He rushed toward the car to help her, but this only brings him to the attention of the shimmer, which passes through him, instantly killing him... no good deed, and all that.
Shortly after the clerk's death, Giles automobile is assaulted by a large dog. This is Rupert the Dog, belonging to Ethan who shows up very shortly after. Giles immediately puts blame for the recent deaths on him, which Rayne denies. He does tell him, Faith and Robin to meet him in his motel room after they've dealt with the police and the clerk's body.
Scene 12: What none of them know is that they weren't the only witnesses to the clerk's death, or Rayne's location. In a car some distance away, Volano's associate, Pudge Pugliesi and young apprentice and the assassin hired to take out Ethan have seen everything. Young Tommy throws attitude at 'Il Pappagallo' for not taking his shot and executing Ethan... and if necessary, the Council witnesses then and there..., but the old assassin replies that he kills who he is paid to, and none others.
When Tommy continues to show disrespect, the old assassin warns him that he sometimes makes exceptions.
Scene 13: In the motel room - room 13, which generally is skipped as bad luck - and behind a masking barrier to boot, Ethan greets Giles with extremely unsubtle flirting, which Giles doesn't respond to. Rupert (the Watcher, not the dog) is coldly suspicious at the timing of Ethan's arrival and the newest threat.
Ethan explains it away as an anomaly, and Giles immediately intuits that if he's not tied to the shimmer, then he must be tied to Willow's recent habit of vanishing. Ethan denies this as well. Giles orders him to the Council, after a brief confrontation in which Giles threatens to crush his windpipe.
Scene 14: Back at the Council, Willow is forced to confirm what we've suspected - she has been meeting with Ethan for several weeks to gain his help in restoring her full powers. Giles is, appropriately, appalled - as am I.
Giles warns that Ethan could have cast any manner of spells on any of them and they wouldn't even know it. He's even more bothered when he finds that practically the entire senior staff at the Council knew about Willow's forays, but kept him in the dark over concern for his health.
Ethan needles him relentlessly before Willow drags him away to get settled.
Scene 15: In the council library a bit later, Willow puzzles over how Ethan knew about Giles' heart attack when she hadn't mentioned it. She becomes convinced that Ethan and Giles are linked in some way, which he kinda-sorta confirms, maybe, but won't discuss. They, along with Ro and Dawn, work on identifying the shimmer.
Scene 16: At the same time in Giles' apartment, Becca and he argue over Ethan's motivations for being in Cleveland. Becca wants to give Ethan a chance to prove that he can change and be less selfish than Rupert thinks. Giles insists that Ethan is running a scam, and is probably responsible in some way for the shimmer of doom.
He is also under heavy strain due to the recent deaths of the teacher and Watcher-in-training.
Scene 17: With Ethan's help, they discover that the shimmer is actually a "Fire Eater". It is a class of interdimensional creatures which can absorb soul energy. Ethan decides their best bet is to force it to manifest physically, so that it can be killed by the usual methods.
Scene 18: Later, in the coven room, Willow's team - including Faith, as she was able to sense the Fire Eater in the parking lot - work to summon the demon and give it physical form. The spellworks are only partially successful, however. Despite Ethan's power, which we find here is considerable, he is incapable for forcing the entity to take on a body, reporting that the creature is actually throwing off his spell.
There is a brief battle, but with the shimmer still being shimmery, it has the advantage.
Scene 19: In the coven room, Ethan continues chanting in an attempt to force the entity into gaining a solid form. Dawn, in the meanwhile, has summoned Giles who is joined by Robin. Faith has fallen to the floor by coming into close proximity to the entity. With Giles' arrival, Ethan grabs his hand and uses his power to drive the entity to form. However, just as it is beginning to work, the being is able to teleport out, leaving only a vacuum behind.
In the silence that follows, Giles rails at Ethan for being a stupid git in summoning the shimmer. Robin sees to Faith and escorts her to Dr. Miller. When Willow sees how ashen-faced Giles is, she also insists he goes to the clinic. Ethan seems genuinely concerned with Giles' health, but Giles only reponds with scorn.
Scene 20: Much later, Skye, Jeff and Dawn are discussing that day's events when they hear Giles yelling in the hallway. They creep close enough to listen in.
It's Willow who is catching hell. Giles accuses her of bringing Ethan, and his resultant chaos, to Cleveland and further insists that his frenemy is causing discord throughout the Council. Will disputes this - telling Giles that he's sowing the discord all on his own with his snapping at everyone. She also tells Rupert that she didn't invite Rayne to Cleveland, she just asked him for help after the fact. Finally, she insists that Ethan's expertise in chaotic systems is leading her toward a breakthrough in re-harnessing her magicks.
Rupert remains unconvinced and insists that once the Fire Eater is dealt with, Ethan is to leave.
Commentary: I have a few issues at this point in the story, but I'm not sure that they won't be explained later. One is Ethan's reason for being in town. I had assumed with Giles that it was to help Willow, but that appears not the case. So, what is he doing there? I'd wonder if it isn't due to Giles' recent health scare - his trying to reach out to an old friend - but if that were the case, why hide out in a cheap motel for weeks on end? The second is Giles' entire attitude problem and his generally angry demeanor - one would think it was either Ethan related or Fire Eater related... that some sort of spell was affecting him, but that also appears to be untrue. I'm not buying the stress-induced reasoning here, because we've seen no evidence of Giles' cracking under the strain until now, and the story starts with him already being snappish... it's too sudden. I also don't understand all of the story focus on Rupert the Dog. I understand that there is an impression being made of the dog possibly being some sort of familiar for Ethan, but the story isn't justifying the constant mentioning of the dog's behaviors or glances or barks and whines.
I do like the continued prickly behavior between Jeff and Skye though, caused by Jeff's interest in Dawn, even though she is clearly spoken for. And, I continue liking how Becca is being handled and her interactions with Ethan are interesting to me. I'm also finding the interactions between Willow and Ethan interesting, even though I'm mildly irritated at her for doing all of this in Cleveland, under Giles' nose, when she knows full well about Ethan's sketchy history and his and Rupert's antagonism.
Taking a leave of absence, or arranging a 'review' of another Council's coven as a cover would have been much more acceptable to me. This situation just smacks of disrespect, and I don't like that I feel like I'm supposed to be taking Willow and Ethan's side and seeing Giles' behavior as irrationally harsh, considering the events in Sunnydale everytime Ethan made an appearance.
Scene 21: The day following the unsuccessful attempt to stop the Fire Eater, Willow and Ethan are walking the grounds. He's come up with a plan that Willow feels less than sure about. He also gives her confidence that her powers are coming back.
Scene 22: While Willow and Ethan talk, he is again unknowingly menaced by Volano's thugs and the hired hitman. Papa fails to shoot Ethan again, stating the dog is jumping in the way, and he refuses to kill dogs. This isn't elaborated upon, but Tommy is clearly going to end up getting himself capped before this episode is done.
Scene 23: Volano's gang isn't the only ones watching Ethan, though. From the library, Giles stares grimly out at the scene. Becca tries to lighten his mood, but he tells her that he's scared for Willow because he doesn't trust Ethan. Becca goes to take a nap, but insists he come and get her if he needs her. He turns his attention to the volume on the Fire Eater that Ethan had found and had given to him with the relevant passage marked.
Scene 24: Rupert the dog spots a rabbit and takes off after it, distressing Willow, but Ethan tells her that the dog won't hurt it. He just likes the thrill of the chase. Willow gives him a look, like maybe the dog isn't the only one.
Suddenly, a shot rings out. The bullet from the assassin is delayed in its path by the protective barriers around the Council, but penetrates it with enough kinetic energy to hit Ethan in the head. He goes down.
Willow screams. Giles breaks into a dead run for outside.
Tommy complains to the old assassin that he's moving too slowly and took too long over some stupid dog. He receives more unveiled threats from the professional killer.
Scene 25: On the lawn of the Council, Giles finds Ethan injured, but alive and conscious. The bullet grazed the magician's head, but wasn't as clean a shot as the assassin thought, apparently. Willow and Giles are relieved, though Giles is unable to completely show it, because Ethan is apparently determined to try to embarass him by making lewd suggestions and being flirtatious to the point of obnoxiousness.
Commentary: I actually have problems with Ethan's characterization here. While Ethan has always had this undercurrent of flirtation with Rupert, in this story and especially in this scene, the idea is taken too far. Ethan has always been much more subtle with the innuendo, rather than so openly lewd - like with his suggestive hip movement in Giles' direction here. I also find it to be a bit extreme for Ethan to be concentrating on embarassing Giles in front of Willow after he's just taken a bullet to the head, nevermind that it actually only grazed him. It's taking the subtext of Giles/Ethan into text too far to work with the sort of character Ethan has always been.
Scene 26: Back at Jimmy Volano's, he's finding out that Rayne was not successfully 'retired'. He's angry, but more at Sir Rodham's attitude than at the failure of the attempt itself. Jimmy warns Cyrus that he should have warned them about the shields around the Council, which Rodham obviously couldn't know about in advance. Il Papa tells them he'll try again the following day.
In the meanwhile, a mysterious blonde answering to her own boss through some sort of mystic contact (Is she answering to The Lover?) tells Volano that while Rayne isn't of much interest to her mistress, he could pose a problem due to his power. Volano assures Angela (and he seems to have an intimate, if not sexual, relationship with her) that they'll take care of Rayne.
Commentary: There are a few more things that bother me about including the gangster angle and that is the idea of The Presidium getting involved with them. It just doesn't add up to me for The Lover to interact with this sort of mundane criminal element in the advancement of The Presidium's agenda. Again, manipulating the old Council, or even Rayne himself to further their goals to conquor Earth would make much more sense than using men with guns and greed for this purpose.
Also, the general Tommy as the arrogant and brash young mobster clashing with the old school mafia men (embodied by Il Papa) just doesn't fit into the Watchersverse. For one, this power struggle is a bit cliche from every gangster film that ever was. Also, Volano's organization itself doesn't work here because they know they're going after a supernatural target, but they don't show any sort of signs of adapting to this knowledge. We don't see them using any mystical means whatsoever to take Ethan unawares or to bespell their guns or ammunition, or anything else that would show us that they are attempting to assassinate a magical user, even though it is clear that Volano is aware of these elements within the Watchersverse.
Finally, Tommy's brashness is so obvious and obnoxious that it just isn't credible. He spends the entire episode daring everyone around him to shoot him so when we see that Il Papa does (not really a spoiler), it was too obvious that was going to be the end result. And, of course, it has nothing whatsover to do with Watchers, at all. This could have worked if it was handled firstly, with a bit more subtlety, but moreso, if the conflict had been based on young Tommy wanting to use mystical means to kill Ethan, while the 'old guard' were busy relying on the same old guns of the past. This never comes to pass though. Tommy is just a jerk with no sense and a big mouth, like he's never heard of anyone ever being killed for crossing the wrong, powerful mob people before. It reads as just too blunt and obvious, with no Watchers-centric reason to be included.
Scene 27: A bit later, Ethan is in his Council-provided room, considering things over. Giles interrupts this to see what he knows about the attempt on his life. Ethan mentions The Organization, and guesses it is an arm of The Presidium working on their behalf.
Giles wonders if the Fire Eater might not have been sent after Ethan and they just happened to be in the crossfire, but Ethan regards this as unlikely. He and Giles' conversation is interrupted by a frantic Dawn, who reports that Shannon the Slayer was brought into the infirmary. She is hysterical, but is seems she may have had another close call with the Fire Eater (and no one mentions it, but since the Fire Eater is drawn to potential energy, Shannon must have big things ahead of her).
Scene 28: In the infirmary, Shannon is thrashing about, too hysterical at her second close brush with death. Dr. Miller and his nurse are having trouble getting the girl sedated until Ethan's dog comes bounding into the room. The presence of the animal calms her down enough to receive the sedative for which the doctor is grateful.
Commentary: I really feel like I'm harshing on this episode's writing, and I'm sorry about it, but... Kennedy was there while Doctor Miller and his nurse were struggling with Shannon... I find it unbelievable she wouldn't be in the room, helping them, or that she wouldn't object to Giles sending her away (to gather Mia's team) while the 12-year old Slayer-child is in such a frenzy, clearly outmuscling the medical staff for no other reason than to allow Ethan's dog another scene. In fact, Rupert the Dog should have been listed under "Guest Starring" for as much attention as he's getting... nearly equal screen time as Ethan Rayne!
Scene 29: In the hallway, Giles reminds Rayne of how much he disapproves of familiars, though we get no explanation for why. Ethan informs Giles that Rupert the Dog isn't a familiar, but just a dog that he rescued and showed love to. For some reason, this interaction and Giles' accusation leads Ethan to get momentarily dark-eyed, but he quickly covers with his usual sardonic humor.
Scene 30: Later, Giles meets with Rowena, Robin and Ethan in the conference room. He reports that Shannon appeared unhurt outside of her shock and Ro updates us on what had actually happened. According to Kenn, she was working out with Shannon when the Fire Eater manifested. It went for Shannon, again, but Kennedy shot it with a crossbow. Although the bolt had no obvious affect, it seemed to act as a distraction. The thing seemed to twist, as if turning in Kennedy's direction, before it folded up and vanished, like it had one in the previous confrontation. The coven's spell making it at least somewhat tangible seems to be holding, although it has been able to remain mostly immaterial.
Ethan suddenly remembers a little, mostly useless, spellbook from the Watcher Academy (suggesting that Ethan, too, was a Council student for a time). He believes that one of the spells might actually force a full manifestation and asks Giles if he still has a copy, which Giles admits to keeping due to its "quaintness".
In the meanwhile, Shannon has been released to her parents and Giles can't say whether she'll return, or if this latest attack on her was too much.
Scene 31: In the coven room, Ethan and Willow have put together what she refers to wryly as "fairy dust". Giles comes in and makes another snarky insult toward Ethan, which caused the chaos-wizard to confront his attitude. Giles dismisses Willow.
Once they're alone, Giles informs Ethan in no uncertain terms that he is not welcomed at the Council or anywhere near Willow. Ethan takes this with a grain of salt, but before their argument can continue, Kennedy comes over the intercom and shouts that the Fire Eater has made another appearance.
Commentary: This scene is unfortunately short, because I like this interaction between Giles and Ethan. I like Giles' blunt and forceful truth cutting through Ethan's constant, deflecting banter. I also like Giles trying to protect Willow, even if Rayne isn't guilt of it, from manipulation because of her feelings of vulnerability now that she isn't uber-witch. I also like that Ethan's relationship with Will remains ambiguous. He could be manipulating or playing her, but it also feels very much like he is actually helping her for her own sake.
Scene 32: The Fire Eater is found in Giles' apartment, where it menaces Becca. Rupert the Dog and Rupert the Husband both try to defend her and the human Rupert gets picked up and thrown against the wall, being knocked out. In the meantime, Ethan pushes Kenn into the hallway and slams the door shut, locking the newly arrived Robin, Faith and Xan out with her. In the meanwhile, Willow, Jeff, Dawn and Skye are hunched in a circle and trying to chant up some countermagic.
Scene 33: Faith tries to kick the door down, but hits a magical barrier. From inside the apartment, Ethan yells that the Slayer's presence is whipping the thing into an energetic frenzy, causing it to dangerously heat the air, and they're causing him to waste mystical energy holding them out.
Faith is about to argue the point, but Rowena arrives and confirms Ethan's suspicions that the Slayer's energies are just driving the thing. She ushers everyone away from the apartment, to their unhappiness.
In the apartment, Ethan tries to get his bowl of dust to the center of the mystic circle formed by the coven. He takes a powerful blow from the shimmery Fire Eater, but manages.
The Fire Eater is manifested, allowing it to be physically injured, but it lashes out violently with kinetic energy. It turns its rage on Ethan, but before it can batter him, the dog launches itself at the Fire Eater. It bites into the glowing, now solid form, and is killed nearly instantly. This physical attack does force it to once again fold in on itself and briefly vanish, however, giving everyone a respite.
Ethan warns that it isn't over. With the thing hurt, it will now be angry. Rupert tries to get Becca out of the apartment, but Ethan warns that the thing will follow her - it will want the potential energy from the unborn baby. He warns that no one will be allowed to leave until they've killed the energy form, briefly turning dark eyed, until Willow convinces him to calm and get himself under control.
Just as this situation is brought under control, though, the Fire Eater makes its return. It targets Willow, but Giles is able to send a crossbow bolt into it, causing it to twist into a vortex and disappear - apparently finally killed, or at least vanquished. Ethan seems momentarily uncertain, but after several seconds of quiet, agrees with Giles that the threat is over.
Which is why he has his back turned when the Fire Eater makes one more attempt at vengeance. The vortex very briefly opens, the bolt sent into it sent through with the same speed and trajectory it had when it had hit it. The bolt flies straight for Giles, but Ethan steps in its way, taking it through the chest. The pointed bolt pierces his back and non-seriously jabs Giles, as Ethan begins to drop to the floor, fatally wounded.
Giles cradles Ethan as he bleeds out, choking up blood. As he fades, it is Willow's turn to become dark-eyed. She grabs Jeff and pulls energy out of him as she uses her newly re-discovered, and adrenaline fueled magical strength to yank the 'arrow' (crossbows have bolts, bows have arrows) from Ethan's body. Together, she and Jeff are able to reverse the bled out blood back into Ethan's wound, and then to seal it.
Willow is left sweat-soaked and exhausted, while Jeff is even worse off, lying curled on the carpeting in shock. Ethan, too, isn't completely healed, as he only briefly comes to consciousness long enough to smile at being in Giles' arms before passing out again.
Scene 34: The following morning, Willow reports that Jeff was actually the one to heal Ethan, that she had only acted as a channel. Xander is concerned because of Willow's reversion to dark-eyed girl, but she dismisses this. Dawn reports that Jeff is doing okay, but is freaked out at what they were able to do.
Becca asks after Ethan, who has made a full enough recovery to not be in the medical wing. Xan tells her that he's out burying Rupert the Dog.
Willow very pointedly suggests that Giles should be out there with him.
Scene 35: Outside, as Ethan is digging the grave of Rupert the Dog, Il Papa has returned to finish his job. Before he can squeeze off the round, however, the car of gangsters receive a phone call cancelling the hit. They drive off, undetected.
Scene 36: At Rupert's graveside, Giles and Rayne share a moment.
Scene 37: Later that evening, back at Volano's place, he arrives in his office with right hand, Vince, to discover that before Il Papa left, he put a bullet in Tommy's head.
We also learn that Rodham changed his mind about the hit on Rayne with no explanation. We also hear that The Presidium still wants Rayne dead, but have delayed it until he can perform one last task they need.
Scene 38: In Giles and Becca's, Ethan prepares for his goodbyes. Giles, reluctantly, offers assistance in helping Ethan dodge the hit on him. There remains a tenseness between them though, and he is forced to admit he wants Ethan to leave. Ethan hints rather broadly at his romantic interest in Giles that has never waned since their dark magic days.
Giles kisses him before he teleports out, but it is chaste and without romantic intentions.
Scene 39: In the Citadel of The Presidium, The Lover contacts Angela as she is sexing Volano. She instructs Angela to forget about Ethan and make sure her 'charge' does so as well and then orders her to proceed with her next instruction... something to do with using Volano - but it remains unstated at this time.
The Flayer is summoned by her next. The Lover consults with The Flayer on their plans for conquering Earth. She orders him to take his armies and attack the four connecting Hells to use a bulwarks for their final confrontation.
Scene 40: The following morning, Willow and Giles are walking the Council grounds and discussing what occurred with her and Jeff and Ethan. Willow reports that she tried to channel Jeff again, but got no reaction at all, suggesting that it was the power of her emotions that let her do what she did to save Ethan, using Jeff.
Giles asks for specifics on what Ethan was showing her, but her description causes him amusement. He informs her that Ethan's "ancient ritual" to get her powers back was actually something that they had made up back at the Academy to humiliate Travers, as he was a coven student himself. He tells her that he had banned Ethan from using his chaos based magic to help her, so he must have decided to use good old fashioned meditation and a lot of hooey to build up her confidence in herself.
Willow takes this as evidence that Ethan has changed, which Giles can't commit to yet. She brings up their past and Giles admits that he and Ethan were very close, but that for him it ran its course and he never looked back. Ethan remains feeling a flame for him.
They walk by Rupert the Dog's graveside, only to find the ground churned up from below. Around the grave, paraphrenalia suggesting the same spell that Willow used to bring back Buffy lie scattered about....
The Good: The Becca and Giles interactions are well written.
Willow's continuity with her concern over her weakened powers is appreciated.
The battle scenes with the Fire Eater are well written.
I like the acknowledgement that Jeff and Skye have problems with each other over Dawn, without their overtly fighting about it.
I like the specific Giles/Ethan dialog in scene 31. That is more of what we needed in their other scenes alone together.
I find the Willow/Ethan dynamic to be an interesting one.
The Bad: The Presidium's motivations with being involved with Volano are unconvincing. I understand their using The Organization, but Volano's criminal enterprises just feels too mundane to be part of the demonic invasion storyline.
The heavy handed "Ethan cares about this simple dog" plot point that is far too focused on. The dog takes up too much screen time, period.
Ethan is given no clear reason for coming to Cleveland, if it wasn't out of concern for Giles, some sort of precognitive sensing of the Fire Eater, or a call from Willow for help.
Other Thoughts: There are several problems I had throughout the story. Giles starts off so prickish, that you have to believe he's being influenced by something, but no, he's just stressed out and pissy. This is just too sudden.
I also don't like Volano being pulled into the greater storyline without seeing him much more involved in magic or the supernatural. In his other appearances, it worked, but here with him sticking to the mundane guns - going up against someone he knows is a magic user - just doesn't make logical sense, even leaving aside The Presidium's unconvincing use of him as a pawn against the Council. I also didn't like the constant 'Tommy is disrespectful, Il Papa is going to kill him' scenes, which had nothing to do with the Watchers, and the sudden calling off of the hit on Ethan was as unconvincing as the contract for the Order of Taraka against Buffy being canceled with a line of dialog was.
Ethan's romantic interest in Giles is approached with a sledgehammer and Ethan has always been a much more subtle-jibes sort of character. I find his dialog to blunt and obvious instead of smirky and insinuating in too many scenes. In fact, I feel like this episode's writing in general was too blunt in order to force an acceptance of Ethan as good guy, instead of just telling the story and letting us debate with ourselves whether this added up to a change in him, or a fluke. It would have been a lot easier to accept if we were given an indication that Ethan had come to Cleveland specifically for Giles or Willow, but this is contradicted in the story itself without any other reason for his being there given. His motivation for taking time off from The Organization is muddled unnecessarily.
Sir Rodham's antipathy toward Ethan is all ill-written. He seems to be ordering the killing of Ethan as 'a loose cannon', but then suddenly it appears that this was a Presidium ordered hit, which is then cancelled by them.
It is muddled about Giles and Ethan's connections and Ethan and Rupert the Dog's connections. Ethan and Giles both deny that they have a mystic link, but Ethan knows things he shouldn't have any way of knowing, unless he's keeping close tabs on Giles, which he needn't be so mysterious about. Ethan (and the general narrative strongly implies) that Rupert is just a dog, but it seems to understand English perfectly judging by its behavior everytime Ethan speaks. It feels like the story authors want us to make assumptions about Ethan/Giles and Ethan/Rupert, just so they can say, "See, it isn't what you thought", but engaged in deceptive writing so that in retrospect the lack of anything mystical isn't the least bit convincing.
The Score: I like a lot of the ideas presented in this story, but am not crazy with the way it progresses for the reasons explained under the comments. I generally like the story, especially the dynamics between Ethan and Willow. Too much of the writing though doesn't hold up to scrutiny without more details explained and there is a heavy-handedness to Giles' and Ethan's dialog throughout much of it that takes away from the story. I also find the constant shifting of view to Tommy to be pointless to the narrative and the entire Volano-involvement to be generally weak: 2.75 out of 5